Steve Jackson’s “Illuminati” Card Game and Early Internet Activism

“Someone You Trust is One of Us”


Artwork by Vanessa Bell

I first heard about the “Illuminati” card game by Steve Jackson around 2002. At the time, there was very little information available on the Internet about the game (and the Illuminati, in general), and I was left with a flood of conspiracy theories that involved not only the card game, but Steve Jackson, himself.

Eventually, I found out that, rather than promoting some totalitarian takeover, Jackson was actually a very early element in internet privacy efforts, like the now popular “Save the Internet” and “Net Neutrality” movements and resistance to anti-piracy bills like SOPA and PIPA -especially internet “hack-tivist” groups like Anonymous and the WikiLeaks community.

We Do It for the LULZ…

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The Most Deadly Game…

I purchased a copy of the original game from a comic book shop in 2004, but it is very involved and takes quite a while to setup, let alone finish the game… needless to say, I haven’t actually played it more than a handful of times, but I quickly realized that this game was supposed to be a joke about how ridiculous people are in the modern world. I loved it.

I had recently stumbled upon a copy of Rob Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus Trilogy”, and was beginning to understand this sense of humor about this topic which seemed to me, at the time, to be the most profound and interestingly terrifying subject I’d ever come across -the Grand Conspiracy.

The Proof is in the Pudding… err.. Cards


Proof of a conspiracy?

There are a number of cards that Conspiracy Researchers have called into question. Many people have taken some of these cards to be prophetic visions or warnings, obvious slaps to the face of the general public who is at the whim of the megalomaniacal Illuminati, or even propaganda meant to desensitize the masses to this idea of a grand conspiracy.


Hey -That’s me! =D

Personally, I think this game is merely a mockery of the modern world and any correlations that could be drawn to future or deeper conspiracies is more than likely the ravings of some lunatic. You should probably check it out for yourself, though.

Of course, “hiding” references to various things is a common sort of inside joke among the… “Illuminated Ones”. I mean… we’ve got to laugh to keep from going crazy in the midst of all of this madness. Most of the humor in these cards is surface level, but there are some “inside-joke” references to things like the Church of the Subgenius, and “The Illuminatus Trilogy”.

The Church of the Subgenius, Discordianism, and the Counter Culture


I know people who are like this…

I understand why many do not see the cards the way that I do, especially when shown a few cards out of context, but there’s a lot of history behind this game that you don’t have to look too far to find. The 1960s brought a large rebellion against the way the world had been forming, and there was a large revolution of thought towards mock establishments like the Church of Satan.

These were volatile times, and while many saw the political turmoil that we were facing as a result of this kind of rejection of society, it was actually the other way around -people just weren’t familiar with these things, so this sense of humor about the world was largely misunderstood, and still is to this day. It’s become part of the joke.

The Early Days of Internet “Hack-tivism”


This is what I think of whenever I see anything about Anonymous… before they aopted the Guy Fawkes masks, anyway…

Steve Jackson didn’t just develop board games, he also developed computer text-based games and hosted an online Bulletin Board System (BBS), an early version of a web-forum, called the Illuminati BBS. It was here that some of the first violations of internet privacy were challenged.

As I’m sure you can imagine, the Illuminati BBS drew all sorts of rebellious individuals who were both computer savvy and armed with information about the world that many people were not privy to. This cyberpunk group of hackers felt like they were the elite of the elite, and the Illuminati BBS became a breeding ground for egotistical debauchery.

They began sharing sensitive materials about various conspiracies -both imagined and some that were very real, as well as recruiting fellow hackers for the cause, and this somewhat apolitically minded community was temporarily shutdown by the Secret Service in a raid on Jackson’s office in Austin, TX in March of 1990.

The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace

computersecurityxAs Jackson and his company were merely providing an open forum for people to community, they had done nothing wrong. He sued the government, and got his computers back. It would be another 10 years before the DMCA would place responsibility over this kind of internet activity in the hands of the telecom companies and ISPs -the gatekeepers to the global network. Since then, there have been many efforts by the US government to take control of this symbol of both global freedom and inter-connectivity, as many other nations do with their severally restricted network access.

Jackson’s case against the raid was sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization headed by John Perry Barlow, who wrote the “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace” -declaring that the Internet was an open access network of individuals that exceeded beyond the control of any legislative authority. There were already laws that concerned things like destruction of property and violation of copyright laws… Internet users were concerned that these kinds of violations of privacy would eventually lead to the total erosion of the open and easy access of the Internet.

A Never Ending Chain of Conspiracy… Theories…


“…When the Rapture comes, I’ll make ’em wait! They’ll never clean my cage! Now give me some more of…”
(Tape runs out.)
-From the Church of the Subgenius’ “Shut up or Stand Up”

Almost 25 years later, we’re still trying to protect the freedom of the Internet, and people are still cooking up crazy conspiracy theories about Jackson, the “Illuminati” card game, and an ever growing variety of other issues. When you play the game, it becomes quite obvious that this is really how the world works -not always, but most of the time… Two or more groups establish diverging strategies with the end goal of defeating the other in a chance for world domination. While not everything in modern society is a part of some grand conspiracy, we tend to play into these political games on our own.


2 responses to “Steve Jackson’s “Illuminati” Card Game and Early Internet Activism

    • Or, you could verify everything… present alternative information… I guess useless comments work, too.

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